Samos Refugee Tragedy: Meeting Some of the Survivors

We have just come back from the ferry as we were told at the Detention Camp
 on Friday that it was likely that the survivors would be travelling to
 Athens today (Sunday). They were indeed at the port and for the 
first time we managed to talk with some of them on the ferry.
 It takes just over an hour for the ferry to go from Vathi to Karlovassi
 and this is the time we had with them.
 
It was a very distressing experience for us to meet the survivors many of whom
 were clearly in deep shock. It was also awful that in order to get on the ferry you had to 
pass within 50 metres of the boat in which most of the people lost their lives. It is simply
 lying on the dock with a bit of tape round it. Why did they have to confront this? 
Why hasn't the boat been either moved or covered?
 
The survivors we met were from Syria and Somalia. The Syrians seemed to have
 experienced the greatest trauma in terms of loss of life. The young guy who lost his 
mother and sister (who was 7 months pregnant) was very upset and angry. He
 didn't want us to talk with him nor the group sitting with him. He said there was no
 help to be had; nobody helps them. It was hard to listen to his despair, although 
completely understandable. We did talk to a Syrian man in his early 20s from near 
Aleppo who spoke English and he was telling us how awful it was in Syria. 
Just horrifying. He asked how could they be forced to travel in this way when they
 were only trying to get away from a terrifying war. In terms of the tragedy
 he said the fibre glass motor launch (not a yacht in that it has no mast or sails) 
faced big waves which flooded the boat and it was 2 big waves one after 
another which turned them over. There was a second smaller boat with them 
and we couldn't work out what happened to that except that it sunk. The guy and
 his friend who were driving the boat were both arrested. They didn't escape as 
some have suggested.
 
What really shocked us was that the survivors were in the sea
 for 3 hours before they were rescued. Given how near they were to the
 land and the fact that the police/army/frontex always seem to be around
 on this part of Samos (using thermal cameras) looking for refugee boats
 coming over at night it seems strange that help took so long to arrive.
 Then there is the matter of the cruise ship which was first on the scene.
 
The young Syrian talked of being very cold and some got hypothermia 
and could recall little of what happened. He on the other hand could
 remember he said, every minute. The cruise boat – he described it as a
 big white tourist ship was circling them. It was the first on the scene. He
 said they were shouting for help and some swam to the ship but there 
were no ropes or ladders. The cruise boat did not lower any life boats
 to rescue people. This is shocking. So they were in the water until the
 'police' boats arrived and pulled them out. He said they watched people 
die during this time. This at the very least suggests there are some serious
 questions to be asked of the cruise boat. But we didn't talk more as they
 were too upset and angry.
 
The group of 5 Somalian men had not lost any of their friends and 
relatives and were more open to talk. It was they who told us the
 men in charge were arrested and also said they were not very 
competent in handling the boat. We wondered in fact whether 
the drivers of the boat were also refugees who were offered a free 
ride on the grounds that they could drive a boat. But this is speculation. 
What is not speculation is that they each paid $ (US) 1,000 to make the journey.
 
Nobody said much about the camp or how they were treated.
 The survivors are really in shock but we are not sure that they will get much 
more help now they are out of the camp. None of them wanted to stay in Greece
 and all said they would be looking to move on as soon as possible.
 
Apparently, the survivors were told not to speak to anyone. We suspect
 that this normal practice in these circumstances.
 
We are especially concerned about the well being of the Syrian survivors.
 We can't stress too highly that their release from the camp does not mean
 that they are going to be in a better place. Athens for many refugees 
is a cruel place where without adequate resources they are forced to live on the very
 margins and  are highly vulnerable to many forms of exploitation.


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